Demetri Martin wore a lot of hats for his new film “Dean.”
Besides writing, directing and starring in the movie, he also provided artwork and produced it. And some of those tasks were more enjoyable than others.
“Well, writing feels like homework,” Martin explains. “The comedian in me likes jokes because they’re shorter and I can pop them out and if they don’t work, OK, I can move on to the next. But writing a script feels like a grown-up assignment.”
He says that he took well to directing, which surprised him, but what really got to him was the more ambiguous task.
“Producing was a nightmare,” he says. “It just wore me out. It was really hard. ... I’d love to find a really good producing partner. Someone who is good at that, who is a good creative problem solver and knows how to do it.”
Difficulties aside, Martin’s film got made, and even won Best U.S. Narrative Feature at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
The dark comedy, set in New York City and Los Angeles, follows a father and son, played by Martin and Kevin Kline, as they cope with the death of the family matriarch in different ways.
amNewYork spoke with Martin about the film, in theaters June 2.
What was your inspiration for the film?
Well, my inspiration for the film was very personal one. Even though the film’s fiction, I wanted try to deal with something I’m familiar with, and that’s loss, losing somebody you love, because when I was 20, my father passed away. And he was only 46. My mom was 41 at the time. So we were all pretty shocked and devastated. And now, years have passed, it’s not something I have focused on in work or done stand-up about or anything. But I wanted to try to make a first movie here and to start with something that I know about, but I always wanted to the film to be fiction and not to just be my story. ... I wanted to come up with characters. To make up fictional people that seemed real, but not necessarily take anybody from my life. So that was the inspiration.
How do you see yourself as similar to Dean?
[We’re both] a … stand-up comedian and maybe I can make him a little more introverted, a little more quieter as a person so that we can see his work and see his quiet side. I’m not an only child. I’m the oldest of three. I have a lot of aunts and uncles, I have a big family. ... But in terms of behavior, he’s kind of different than me, maybe a little more awkward than I am. I’m learning that people see me as a little more awkward than I see myself. I’m learning that people see you a different way than you see yourself sometimes.
You have the great Kevin Kline playing your father. What made him the right guy for the role?
What I love about Kevin is ... how funny he is as an actor, but also how vulnerable he is in any of his performances; how there’s kindness and warmth. ... I didn’t write the part with anybody in mind, but when I finally had the script done my first thought was, “Oh, Kevin Kline would be great for this.” ... I got lucky that he responded to the script.
So there’s a lot of talk about Brooklyn and Los Angeles. New York is better right?
Well, yeah my parents are from Brooklyn. Unfortunately, I grew up on the Jersey Shore. I say that because I wasn’t good at team sports — I was pretty low on the totem pole. I had very low status as a kid because I wasn’t coordinated. And later, when I got the chance to go to New York, that’s where I wanted to live and I lived there for 14 years. And I love New York. ... I moved out to California to pursue my showbiz dreams and so here I am. And I came out here kind of with my arms folded. I think it’s easy to love New York and it’s easy to beat up on L.A. I’m standing in my yard talking to you right now. When I buy groceries, I put them in my car.
What else are you working on?
I’m working on a new book of drawings and I’ll call it, “If It’s Not Funny, It’s Art.” That will be out in December. And I’m going to shoot a new stand-up special in December. And I’m writing a pilot for FX. Maybe we’ll get to shoot that. That will actually take place in New York, if I get to do it.